In 1997, expedition kayaker and cinematographer Scott Lindgren and a team of paddlers climbed 17,618-foot Pequeno Alpamayo in the Andes Mountains, then kayaked the Rio Camata into the Amazon. The resulting documentary film, Andes to Amazon, won Lindgren an Emmy. Not a bad way to start a career. Ten years, a dozen films, and a first descent down Tibet's Tsangpo River Gorge later (see Outside's July 2002 article "Liquid Thunder" and online coverage of the expedition), Lindgren, 34, is still traveling to the back of beyond, logging first descents, and capturing some of the world's most death-defying physical feats on film. For the past two years, he's been perched on cliff tops, jet skis, and helicopters shooting his latest film, Burning Time II (which premiered May 12 at Nevada's Reno River Festival and is available on DVD in mid-May), a 50-minute sequel to 2004's Burning Time. The film follows kayakers like South Africans Steve Fisher and Dale Jardine from the perilous waters of the Niagara Gorge to a first descent of California's Upper Middle Kaweah. But this time, Lindgren also includes river surfboarding, big mountain skiing, and a handful of first descents. MEGAN MICHELSON caught up with Lindgren between edit sessions to talk about the hazardous realm of adventure filmmaking, how to get the right shot, make it real, and be sure you come up for air.
Burning Time II
Outside: There are some seriously scary moments in this film. There's one where Dale Jardine paddles the Zambezi River below Africa's Victoria Falls, one of the seven great wonders of the world. He gets stuck in a nasty hole and disappears. How long was he under?
Scott Lindgren : Twenty seconds, maybe longer. But he ends up swimming through three huge holes and is in the water for about a minute and a half. We had three cameras on the scene, but when we were shooting it, only one of the three cameras got the shot. You're watching it and you're like, "This guy's drowning." We're all sitting there pulling our hair out. It was one of the most epic things we've ever shot in our lives.
Seems like you have a bunch of those moments in this film. You guys also paddle the Niagara Gorge, below Niagara Falls in the film. Has anyone else run those 30-foot waves?
As far as I know, 1989 was the last time that section of the river was kayaked. We thought it was illegal to run it, but when we were down there, we did a run. It was super high profile because we had helicopters and jet boats. Two state park custom agents came down and were like, "What are you guys doing?" "We're going kayaking," we said. They looked at us and said, "OK, cool, have fun with that." I guess they figured we weren't doing anything that was going to threaten the security of the United States Border Control.
You really pushed the limits. You even shot at 2:30 in the morning in one of your scenes off the coast of Vancouver. That had to be difficult to pull off.
Initially, the idea was to illuminate the wave from the bottom of the ocean, so we hired out all this Hollywood lighting gear for an underwater lighting extravaganza. We had a two-day window because of the tides, so we got it all set up and were ready to rock, but then gale-force winds came in. So we ended up lighting it from the top, not the bottom, because of this enormous squall.
You also branched out sport-wise in this film. Forget the kayaking for a second-what's with the surfers?
On the Zambezi River in Zambia, we have a stand-up wave-surfing segment on a free-standing hollow barrel. The anomaly of that is that it's on the river; that's not an ocean wave. We brought in Bill Bryan from Laguna Beach, California, and Gavin Sutherland from Hawaii's North Shore. Before surfing it, we decided we were going to make them boogie board the river. We got to the biggest rapid on the lower run, which is rapid number nine. There's this huge frickin' hole. So they boogie board that. Bill goes through and greases it. Then Gavin goes through and is a little off line and disappears at the top and comes out at the bottom.
And how about the one skier in the film, Canadian Eric Hjorliefson, ripping lines near the Columbia Ice Fields in British Columbia?
What makes Eric so special is that he can do a cork 900 or 1200 and then go ski off a 17,000-foot peak and absolutely kill it. He's the most diverse skier on the planet right now.
Four continents, 12 athletes. Can you even narrow down the coolest place you put in your boat for this film?
Turkey's Black Sea, which has this little mountain range around it. Most of Turkey is desert. Then, all of a sudden, you run into this mountain range and you drop over to the other side. It's like a cross between British Columbia and Colorado. We spent almost three and half weeks running rivers that flow into the Black Sea out of this little mountain range.
Looking at some of this footage, people must think you've got a screw loose.
Most people think we're crazy. It just doesn't make sense to them. They don't spend 200 to 300 days a year on the water, and when they see the size and magnitude of what we're running, it speaks for itself. Any common person can look at that and say, "OK. That's not for me."
For more on Scott Lindren and Burning Time II, and the chance to win free gear like a Dagger or Wavesport kayak, and an NRS drytop, go to www.slproductions.tv.